Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mearns Quail. Elusive, Unique, Beautiful. Harlequin Quail of The Border.

We moved from the cactus and crushed lava rock down to the southern border with Mexico and in to an altitude band of 4000-5800'. There we found the rarest of the quail in the United States, Mearns Quail.  It so happens, this was a tremendous year for the birds.  Through the grapevine of kindred bird hunters, we heard the population was up and, if we wanted to find a few, now was the time. 

Through friends of friends (of friends..) we found a retired military pilot living in the area who, it seems, prides himself on hunting this bird above all others.  He's an expert concerning them and his dogs (Brits) are top-notch and are Mearns-finding machines.  Aside from the fact that he's 69 years old and walked us in to the ground, he was a real pleasure to hunt with and a fount of knowledge about the birds.

Terry (right), a quail biologist himself, and Wally take a look at what the birds have been eating. This is an effort to learn what to look for when stumbling along, gasping for air, following these two.  Hopefully, if I see some of this type of seed, I'll get them to stop long enough, under the guise of looking for some feeding birds, to catch my breath and grab a drink of water!

My dog, Bandit, found the water trough quickly enough.  It was in the 70's the day we hunted.  We learned from the "old guys", if you have enough time, the best time to hunt is from sunup for a few hours and for a few hours prior to sun down.  The humidity increases enough to help the dogs scent the birds. 

Bandit pointed a covey along the way and we managed to drop a few birds.  These quail are bigger than the Gambels or Blue Quail....and they eat just fine. 

You would think with coloration like this, they would be easy to spot in the brown grass.  Not so!  I'm here to tell you, one can be absolutely LOOKING for these birds and walk right in to a covey unexpectedly.  They are perfectly camouflaged!

Along the way, we found some interesting things.  This is a water hole that comes right out of a rock.  Ace, my Brit, is coming out after getting a drink.  Interestingly, human tracks lead in to the waterhole and the trash around the area indicated perhaps human visitors were common here.  We were VERY close to the border  and Border Patrol trucks were a common sight.

This is one of the most beautiful areas I've seen in Arizona.  Much different than I expected.  I learned that Hollywood discovered this area many years ago, as well.  The Young Guns, The Big Valley, and may other westerns and movies were filmed here.  While much of this is public land, a huge chunk is in a conservancy and a lot is private, too.  No matter.  This is what most of Arizona looked like back in the day- prior to over-grazing (so I'm told).  When the cows eat everything that's edible, only cactus and junk is left.  This area has been preserved through luck and effort. It's truly a sight to see!

This is a part of Arizona I did not know existed. Very nice. The view makes for a pleasant hunt!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Gambels Quail in Arizona- Running Devils.

The drive from Oklahoma to Arizona is worth the ticket price!  I loved every minute. Beautiful scenery and good road kept the  trip interesting and was good for the dogs, as well. Smooth roads keep them rested. 

Gambels country that we hunt has bed described as land where everything either pokes, stings or bites you. I'm here to confirm that is correct. However, add it is hot(or cold) and dry as a bone and the dirt is volcanic ash that is like running on sandpaper. Over time, it will wear down dog pads leading to worn spots and limping hunters. Local dogs can overcome this with toughened pads, but out of towners, like mine, no matter how well prepared, will need boots and some real care and attention to assure their feet don't become a problem. 

Remember to hydrate yourself, too. It's amazing how much water you can lose and not feel it. If I'm not careful to hydrate well, I'll wake up in the middle of the night craving water, with cramping quads, rolling out of bed holding my leg, usually my right one, and cussing my stupidity for not drinking more water.

Ruby did some excellent work on singles north of Globe, Arizona. I was so impressed with her this day. Great find and retrieve in very difficult conditions. 

Here's my Cap. He's got the covey nailed and is swearing they are "Right there, Boss!"  They were, indeed, right there and we had some fine shooting for a while until they managed to escape.

At the end of the day, we really hated to leave Gambels country, but the Mearns were calling. 

We headed farther south, at times only a mile to so north of the border, and went after the most elusive of the  North American Quail- Mearns, or Harlequin quail.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Cool Things You See On The Road! Sign Art in Mid-America.

EXACTLY halfway between Chicago and Los Angeles, on old Route 66 (the same one you get your kicks on) is the little town of Adrian, TX. It's a wide spot on the road that used to have a decent cafe, now closed. I know exactly halfway because there is a line painted on the road that says just that. 

Also, all around town, these signs appear in yards, on trees, on buildings. I have no idea who, where or what. Years ago, when I hunted near here (Blue Quail, gobs of them in a good year on a private 32,000 AC. a friend owns) the cafe owner had some information, but my brain memory is full. That particular set of facts got dumped. So, I made up stuff in my head, none of which is true. 

One thing I truly love about flyover country is that there are still individuals out there. We still have some divergent thinkers, thank God for that!  One lives or lived here. I wonder what his (I do think it is a him) story is?  Actually, the true story would never live up to the one I've made up anyway. This little wide spot in the road, with no cafe or gas station, has some interesting thinking winding throughout the dirt streets. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Oklahoma Late Season Quail

We heard parts of Oklahoma had the rains this year. A quick call to the DNR confirmed the rainfall rumor and the possibility of a triple hatch!  That was the good news. The bad news is that the bird numbers were down so far, it will take several years to get back to the "normal" years of the past. It mattered not to this bird hunted. After Nebraska, to Oklahoma we went. Cooper WMA is where we started. Thousands of acres managed for quail with feed, cover and water, it is a habitat paradise for the bobwhite. 

Unfortunately, the weather turned warn on us. We did find one covey in the morning.....in the safety zone...rats! Then we found 5 singles scattered out throughout the day, throughout the WMA. Go figure why they weren't in coveys. Got me. 

Lunch on the tailgate was sumptuous, nutritious(?), and cheap. The perfect birdhunter's lunch. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Late Season Pheasant Hunt or Who Needs a Therapist? I Have a Dog!

Champ and Ace have them pinned down 

Scott got one of my puppies, by Ace, and I delivered him, El J, in November. While I was there, we went out and hunted a little bit. His Brittanies are very nice, well conditioned, well mannered in the field and a pleasure to hunt behind. 

Ace on the retrieve. 

I managed to invite myself back a few months later...."Hey, Scott, I'm passing by your place in a few weeks, how about we take the dogs out a bust a few roosters?"  I got there on the heels of the worst arctic blast in 20 years and it was still pretty cold. But the skies had cleared and we set out with our dogs to find some late season survivors. These are the tough, smart ones. 

Scott holding a fine specimen of a harvested rooster. 

Champ makes a nice retrieve. 

They did lead us on a merry chase a few times, I'll concede. In the end, the dog noses and experience put us in a position to harvest some birds. 

It was a cold one. To be sure! 

Scott doesn't miss many!  

Ace and me and the harvest. 

Today the forecast is for snow/rain mix and 10 mph wind from the south. Perfect. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Pearl and Shack

While roading the "big dogs", I like to take the puppies on a loop around the pasture, as well.  Here is a short clip I made last week when the pups were 4 months old.  I leave in a few days for another hunting trip to AZ and NM.  Unfortunately for these little guys, they are just a bit too young for me to take them along.  Next year, they will be the stars!

Photo by Nancy Whitehead